“To err is human” is a popular phrase, but can you imagine a doctor using this phrase while treating a deadly disease?
Medical errors were reported to be the third leading cause of death in the United States in 2016.
This shocking statistic is among the major reasons that UX (user experience) in healthcare has been gaining increasing attention over the past few years. Healthcare is a sector where poor usability and UX isn’t just a meager irritation, it can lead to life-threatening medical errors and traumatic outcomes.
Bad UX is a problem that has infested many sectors of healthcare, it starts from hospital administration – (Read: an Ebola patient was accidentally sent home), to health care processes – (Read: A cancer patient succumbed to toxicity and dehydration) because even the highly experienced nurses were trying to figure out the monitoring software and missed out on a very crucial piece of information. A common denominator behind these unforgivable errors was poorly designed user interface.
With so much on the line, you would think that the healthcare industry hires the cream of the best UX designers in the world, but unfortunately they don’t.
Thus, it is evident that it is high time for a revolution in the designing healthcare systems.
Before we get into that, let’s take a flashback into healthcare reforms through centuries. Health issues have been around since the beginning of time, diseases and the doctors evolved through time. Astrologers served as the earliest doctors who would diagnose your health issue and its treatment based on your fate. Later, we had barber surgeons (Just one visit to the barber is all it took to extract a tooth, amputate a limb and of course get a haircut!) and it went on until one fortunate day when René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec finally invented the first ever version of stethoscope in 1816. Since then, healthcare has seen several technological developments.
However, even in today’s age of 3D printing, robot surgeries and well-trained surgeons, several hospitals and healthcare providers use obsolete, confusing and unorganized systems day-in and day-out.
To make our point, here is an image of what the software designed for healthcare providers look like –
Take a look at the image above and you will see how packed it is with information. In this software the doctor need to select a patient’s name. On selecting, the software takes the doctor or healthcare administrator to this screen. As you can see the screen is jam packed with information about the patient. On the left there are several folders ranging from patient’s documents such as driver’s license, insurance card, test reports, prescriptions, letters and several other signed forms.
A doctor treating the patient does not require all of the information loaded into this software. All that a doctor will require is the patient’s test report or previous prescriptions. Nevertheless, he will have to select from the numerous folders and make a minimum of 7-8 clicks before he actually has access to the desired information.
Hospital administration involves a massive amount of software dependency. Administration of the hundreds and thousands who walk in every day and move from one department to the next is no easy feat. Besides, there are several documentations required such as the Electronic Health Record, Electronic Medical Record, Continuity of Care Record and Personal Health Record. In such cases, cross channel integration and support is not as open or readily available. This causes limitation in access of information.
Different departments of the hospital have different requisites which may vary immensely. This gives rise to multiple processes and systems. Not to mention the healthcare providers are also expected to send out triplicate or sometime multiple reports. This is not only time consuming but also stressful.
Doctors and nurses are further burdened with the cognitive load of remembering 10 different passwords for different accounts and sending out multiple reports across multiple systems which interferes with their extremely packed schedules and causes stress.
Additional side effect of such software is the time taken for training and onboarding of end users is colossal. Besides, the healthcare industry is divided majorly into two camps, one that is all in for digitization and a seamless connected world and the other group that is comfortable with the old processes and not willing to adopt the new technology. Unless a clear decision has been passed by the executive committee, the design should be such that it caters to both these camps.
Healthcare professionals work odd shifts and long hours and literally hold many lives in their hands. Therefore, empowering them with a delightful user experience is not an option but a necessity.
The base of UX design in healthcare that should be considered is that every industry has its own standards and familiar ways of going about things. Hence, conducting end user research and designing by adhering to those standards lowers risk of errors.
A UX designer must keep that in mind, especially in healthcare, the design needs to work like a scalpel and not like a Swiss knife, i.e. the design needs to be simple and intuitive and not distracting. The UX designer must resist the urge to over design. When additional features were introduced at a level where the design no longer provides visual cues of what is next and what is important it may add to the cognitive load of the healthcare providers and lead them to cause grave mistakes. Mentioned below are some of the best practices that a designer should keep in mind before designing for healthcare.
Ideating, validating, testing and refining design concepts
It is best to prove your design wrong as early as possible. The best way to fail-proof your idea is by thorough testing, prototyping and even using simple models help in quickly developing and validating ideas. Based on the hypothesis and actual results of testing a designer can further refine the design concepts.
Unrequited data, extraneous tabs and flashy designs in healthcare applications can prove to be a major distraction for the doctors and healthcare providers. Making just the right information available at the right time will not just help reduce the cognitive load but also ensure proper diagnosis and treatment of the patient. Minimalistic design is the key to building great UX for healthcare. Minimalistic design involves saying no to tons of features and pin-pointing on what needs to be shown, being thorough with your users, their needs and wants as well as their environments.
Minimize the process
A minimal process without hops and loops or multiple transitions ensures fewer steps and quicker results which is the need of the moment. A doctor performing surgery or treating a suffering patient would not want to cause any delay in the patient’s treatment and thus will always prefer a software with a minimal process that delivers its main functionality seamlessly.
Establish a connection
Even today, patients feel relaxed when doctors are personally present to take care of them. Hence, as a problem solver, build designs that support and unearth information without taking away from the personal touch. Designing for connectivity such that the stored data is available for real-time analysis and collaboration ensures that these objectives are achieved. Patient-centered care should be the main objective.
Revamping UX in healthcare is not an easy task considering the scale of the entire operation. However, we can and should start with user research – a thorough understanding of the different stakeholders, identifying their problems and setting priorities. This will help in tackling one issue at a time and uncovering the best solution for each problem.
Create a sustainable digital strategy
Alongside, more efforts need to be put into creating a sustainable digital strategy for the healthcare industry for the long term. The strategy should be such that it caters to the growing and fast-changing needs of both – the patients and the healthcare providers. This industry needs a paradigm shift from information, proprietary and patient excluded hardware and software and networks to the ones that are interactive collaborative and patient-centered. Eventually, the digital strategy including UX should evolve into semantic, predictive and patient-driven.
However, when healthcare professionals are stretched the way they are every working day, it becomes even more important that while introducing new workflows or proposing better UX, we take them into confidence, fully support their work and offer handholding until they are confident about the change.
We do not imply that a better UX will solve all the issues that the healthcare industry is currently facing. There are several other issues and numerous external factors and stakeholders that contribute to the problems faced by the highly specialized healthcare industry, but we definitely believe that UX will play an important role in establishing a thorough understanding of the end users and in providing sustainable solutions.